If you read this blog on a regular basis or follow me on Twitter, you probably know by now that I will be traveling overseas for about a year, starting November 3rd (as a side note, you can follow our adventures on our Traveling Puffins blog). Part of my preparation is to figure out what I will do with my iPhone.

I figured I would simply terminate my account. I don’t care about keeping my phone number so terminating my contract is not an issue. When I get to Australia, I will buy a pay-as-you-go data plan and I will do the same for the other countries we’ll visit so I can always have my internet fix…

I knew all about the $175 Early Termination Fee (ETF) but since I was moving overseas for a long period of time, I thought that AT&T would be able to waive this fee. When I moved from France to the US, I called my French operator and told them I was moving overseas and that I had to cancel my contract. They canceled it without charging me a dime. It’s the law. If you move out of the country, they don’t have to charge you ETF. This law also applies in the US.

The Frustration Process

So I called AT&T a couple of days ago and spoke to a friendly woman who informed me that AT&T would be able to waive the ETF if I could prove that I was living overseas. A valid proof could be an electrical bill, a cable bill, or any type of bill that would show that I am indeed living in another country. The problem is that I will not be staying in one place and pay a recurring bill. I tried to explain this to her but she said it was the policy and although she understood, there was nothing she could do.

Instead she suggested I put my account on hold for 6 months, which is the maximum period of time AT&T can put your account on hold. She said the cost of the service was $10/month. So basically, you pay $10/month for NOT using your phone. Great! I then told her that I have an iPhone and that since AT&T already overcharges its iPhone customers, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some type of hidden fee for putting your iPhone on hold. Well, funny I should ask… There is indeed an extra $40/month to put your iPhone on hold.

So let’s recap here… You pay $10/month to put your iPhone on hold, and you pay an extra $40/month for the data plan, which you “HAVE TO” pay no matter what. Total is $50/month for not using your iPhone. What a deal!

At this point I started feeling the frustration and anger building up in me. I’m the type of guy who says what he thinks so I started going off on AT&T and the shitty way they treat their customers. I know it never helps to get angry at a CSR, but it does make me feel better, especially if I see it’s going nowhere. It’s worth noting that whenever I go nuts on a CSR, I always tell him/her that I don’t have anything against them as a person and that I value their help. I also always make sure they understand my situation and why I am angry by asking a question such as “wouldn’t you be angry if you were in my shoes”. The answer is always “yes”. It’s a good way to have them validate your anger.

I apologized for my language, thanked her and hang up.

Twitter to the Rescue

After this unproductive phone conversation, I went over to Twitter and vented a bit. I then remembered I had seen an AT&T Twitter account that aimed at helping out angry customers. I searched for it and found @ATTCustomerCare. I tweeted them: Do you want to do a good thing? Please waive my ETF!

Minutes later, I got a reply asking me to DM them my phone number, which I did. A couple hours later, a very friendly woman called me. She was part of the AT&T Twitter Team. I explained her my situation and how frustrated I was to be an iPhone customer because I felt taken advantage of. At this time, I was very nice and polite.

I also made sure she knew “who I was” by reminding her that I write about the iPhone for a hobby. I don’t want to sound like a self-centered arrogant blogger, but I think I do have a little reach in the iPhone community via my blog and Twitter.

Then I told her how angry iPhone users are at A&T and how the company is getting a bad rap these days. She knew I was right and didn’t say anything.

She asked me what would the ideal situation be, which I think was very nice. I told her I would like them to terminate my contract and waive the ETF. In exchange, when I return from my trip next year, I will sign up with AT&T again.

I also explained to her that my iPhone is unlocked and that I would go back with T-Mobile in a heartbeat if I had to when I come back next year. I also explained her that if they were nice to me, I would make sure to share my experience with others (which I’m doing right now). If they were not nice, I would not publicly trash them (which was a lie), but I would never deal with them again.

She said she needed a few hours to see if she could “pull some strings” and see what she could do.

The Outcome

I missed her call back that day but someone else called me the following day. They had some news for me. They offered to put my iPhone on hold for up to a year for $10/month and they will not charge me the extra $40 for the data plan. Basically, they doubled the standard time you can put a plan on hold and waived the monthly data plan cost. The only thing is that I have to prove them that I will be out of the country, so she asked me to email her a copy of the Australian entry stamp on my passport once I get there. Easy enough.

Total cost for the year will be $120. Terminating my contract would have cost $175. Putting my account on hold without speaking to the Twitter team would have cost $600.

Conclusion

Needless to say that I am very satisfied of how this turned out. I think AT&T did the right thing and they managed to keep me as a customer. Would have I been treated the same way if I didn’t blog and tweet about the iPhone? I think so.

If you have any problem with AT&T, I really suggest you deal with their @ATTCustomerCare people on Twitter. They will be much more helpful than the average Customer Rep. They are on Twitter because they understand how important social media is and they will do anything to satisfy you because they know if you’re not satisfied, you will rant about it on Twitter, in which case, the damage could be much worse than the benefits.

Do you have any success/horror story with AT&T or other carriers to share? If so, please leave a comment.

  • Nishant

    Good To read this… reinforces the usability of social media… and that customer care really cares at times though..

    i am hoping to get some help.. have tweeted.. blogged, called et all.

    hope to get cared! 🙂

  • I can understand where some of these companies are coming from because we sign contracts with them. At the very same time, I think that they should have a system similar to the banks when a person is trying to get out of their mortgage early. I switched my mortgage to a different bank about 2 years before my term ended. The fee I paid was equal to 3 months interest only. The amount I was saving in interest with the rate at the new bank more than made up for the fee it cost me to get out of the term. Why can’t they do something similar? Some people sign a 3 or 5 year contract with some cell phone company and are not satisfied with the service so this would be a fair solution I think.

  • David

    WTF. Didn’t u say it was the law that they wave the fee if u move out of the US? Don’t rest until you can escape ur contract w/o any fees. I’m sure u can do it if ur persistant enough. It’s not like u want them to wave the ETF because of some small loop hole in the contract. You want them to wave it because it is the law!

  • A person

    You sound like a dick, always complaining about something. you should look at the fine print instead of giving people a hard time.

  • Clay

    The Twitter team has always been much more helpful.

  • Sebastien

    David,

    Yes, but technically, I am not moving out of the country. I’m just traveling for 10months to a year. I’ll still pay bills and taxes in the US. Besides, I don’t have much bad things to say against AT&T.

    s

  • P

    I am very glad to hear this.
    My wife is a at&t employee for the land servce and we do t get as good of service.

    Thanks for letting us the intelligent consumers who benefit from others knowledge of your good experience.

    Thankx bro.

    Peace p.

  • P

    @a person your an idiot.
    The only dick is you.
    I read plenty of blogs daily and this was the most usless. Pointless comment I have reAd in 2 days. A close second was ” I like turtles”.
    All in all stfu.

    S you rock keep it up.

    Peace P

  • Dan Opran

    Paying for not using your phone at all is insulting. Having to pay ETF for moving outside the country should be illegal internationally, but it seems that is not the case in the US, where “the corporate” makes the law. You paid $120 for nothing, and you’re happy about it?!?! Maybe you deserved to pay. I am moving out of here for good after 10 years – back to Europe. I asked them how would they make me pay, if I close all my accounts here, and they had no answer. Both reps I talked to were super nice, but they could not help. I did not know I will move back when I renewed my contract 6 months ago, and it’s not like anybody changes continents for pleasure. In Europe, there is no issue if you are in the same situation! Also, there you are not paying for receiving calls or texts! The customers should be the ones changing the rules, but when you are happy to pay for nothing, they will continue to squeeze you for their low quality service.

  • What is the exact law? Please specify because I need to know to cancel our Protection One alarm system contract, who is trying to making us pay for the full 3 years.